phil mickelson

“Even when I was making birdies, it didn’t feel good," said Phil Mickelson of his first trip around Oak Hill..

Mickelson shoots 71 in roller-coaster first round

By Stan Awtrey, Contributor

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – For the first hour of his 95th PGA Championship, it looked like the Oak Hill was about to witness the next installment of Phil Mickelson’s Excellent Adventure. Then at the end of the day, there was just enough time for the craziness to return. 

Mickelson, fresh from his victory at the Open Championship, was 3 over par after only two holes and his round could have easily gone askew. He ended up saving it, only to see it go awry at the end. 

Lefty settled down after the bad start, tightened up his swing and made four straight birdies. That gave him some momentum, which led to four birdies over the next six holes to overcome the poor start, and he scratched his way back to 1 under.

“I fought hard,” Mickelson said. “Even when I was making birdies, it didn’t feel good. I was just trying to fight and keep it in play.”

He succeeded – all the way to the 18th hole. Mickelson sprayed his tee shot way left, leaving him 224 yards from the hole. Rather than take the safe play, he tried a hero shot through a narrow opening of oak trees. He wound up blocked again, and this time punched to safety. The result was his second double bogey of the day, which dropped him to 1-over 71.

“I would have to go backwards to get to the fairway,” Mickelson said. “I couldn’t go straight outside. I couldn’t go forward. So I had to pitch out backwards, which would have left me on a downhill lie with a 4-iron.”

He tried to shoot the gap, which would have left him 100 yards. Instead, it hit a tree, which led to the double.

“I was fighting for 5 from the start and ended up making a 6, so it’s not like I lost too much,” he said. 

It was the first time Mickelson had lost his footing since the front nine, when it appeared he might play himself out of the picture early.

“The first four holes was like a shock to my system,” Mickelson said. 

His bogey at the par-3 third hole stemmed from a long tee shot that rolled down the hill and settled into the rough. Mickelson chipped it to 25 feet, but didn’t make the putt.

His woes continued on the next hole. He snapped his tee shot to the right, and it hit hard against the road and careened over a fence and out of bounds. Mickelson reloaded and wound up with a double bogey.

“Out of bounds is not even in play, hit that far right,” Mickelson said. “And to make double on a par 5, that’s the only one we can get to that’s a birdie hole … that’s awful.”

After the round, he was so frustrated that he went straight to the range to hit balls and try to get things straightened out for Friday.

“I’ve got to come out hot tomorrow and get a little more aggressive and attack and try to shoot something in the mid-to-low 60s to get back in it for the weekend,” he said.